Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Worship of Jesus, again

I'm trying to finish a piece on Hebrews and Christology, and I thought I'd use the blog to process some thoughts again. I wrote a piece in 2008 here on the spectrum of positions on the worship of Jesus and received some good feedback from friends. I want to try again.

1. First, let me name the individuals whom I consider to be key players in this discussion. That is to say, any categorization scheme I come up with needs to account with sufficient nuance for the positions of these scholars (I've thrown in some whom I want to be mentioned in the footnotes):
  • Jarl Fossum
  • Margaret Barker
  • Peter Hayman
  • Alan Segal
  • Maurice Casey
  • James D. G. Dunn
  • Loren Stuckenbruck
  • Larry Hurtado
  • Richard Bauckham
  • Paula Frederickson
  • James McGrath
  • Adela Yarbro Collins
  • William Horbury
  • Bart Ehrman
2. What are the key questions? In my 2008 post, I suggested that three questions suffice to adequately categorize these thinkers:
  • Did those who believed Jesus was the Messiah worship him in the strictest sense of that term?
  • If they did, did this worship stand outside the boundaries of mainstream Jewish monotheism?
  • When did this worship of Jesus first take place and what factors facilitated it?
I am pondering whether it would be more precise to present these questions in a slightly more involved form:

a. Was the worship of YHWH exclusive within mainstream Judaism at the time of Christ? A fundamental question is of course what it means to "worship" a being.

b. If it was, to what extent did Judaism allow for the reverence or worship of subsidiary beings as a special case of the worship of the one God YHWH?

c. At what point did the early Christians begin to worship Jesus? Within incipient Christian Judaism? Within early Hellenistic Christianity? Within late first century Christianity or later?

d. Was this worship in continuity with Jewish precedents (especially in conjunction with the answer to #2 above), or did it mark an unprecedented innovation? Was that innovation a "parting" from Jewish monotheism or somehow a new variation on it?

3. So let me try to run Richard Bauckham through this series of questions.

a. He believes the worship of YHWH was exclusive.
b. He also believes that the Jews did not worship any other subsidiary being, even one closely associated with YHWH.
c. He believes the worship of Jesus was very, very early in incipient Christian Judaism.
d. He considers it a clear innovation, but not one that parted from Jewish monotheism. Rather, Jesus is understood to be within the identify of the one God, whose oneness is typified by his role in creation, in eschatology, and in being the sole recipient of sacrifices.

4. Now let me try Larry Hurtado, who perhaps will correct me if I'm wrong.

a. He believes the worship of YHWH was exclusive.
b. He does not believe that Jews actually worshiped any of the agents of God in early Judaism before Christ, although there was the rise of the two power heresy later.
c. He believes that the worship of Jesus was very, very early within incipient Christian Judaism.
d. He considers it a significant mutation, one helped by the traditions about divine agents in Judaism, but of a distinctly new form. Jesus is cultically worshiped in a way they were not. I believe he sees this as a significant discontinuity with mainstream Judaism, worthy of the name, "binitarian."

5. Now let me try James Dunn:

a. He believes the worship of YHWH was exclusive.
b. He does not believe that Jews worshiped any of the agents of God in early Judaism before Christ.
c. He believes that the worship of Jesus in any strong sense was slow to develop within early Christianity.
d. He thus believes that earliest Christianity remained in continuity with Jewish monotheism in the sense that the early veneration of Jesus was not in discontinuity with Jewish precedents.

6. Now let me try Margaret Barker:

a. She did not believe that the worship of YHWH was exclusive. There was at least one other deity, Elohim. (I have always considered her positions bizarre in the extreme)
b. I suppose this makes the second question a bit moot.
c. She thus doesn't have a problem with the early worship of Jesus, I don't think.
d. And she sees the worship of Jesus in continuity with earlier Jewish tradition.

I'd be curious to know if other scholars find this way of approaching categorization helpful. Let me try James McGrath:

a. I believe he considers the worship of YHWH generally exclusive.
b. But he does believe there were precedents for a softer worship of other beings associated with YHWH within a Judaism whose understanding of monotheism changed over time.
c. He does not believe that the earliest worship of Jesus was as robust as Hurtado or Bauckham think. In particular, Jesus was never the recipient of sacrificial worship.
d. He thus does not see the early reverence of Jesus as any kind of departure from the monotheistic precedents within Judaism.

How'd I do, James?

1 comment:

James McGrath said...

You did great! I shared this and commented further on my blog: